United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 9) and Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No.12). Plaintiff, through counsel,
seeks judicial review of an unfavorable administrative
decision on her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the following reasons,
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
filed an application for Title XVI benefits on August 6,
2013, alleging disability since May 10, 2013. (Tr. 169).
Plaintiff's application was denied initially on April 1,
2014 (Tr. 100), and upon reconsideration on July 1, 2014, it
was denied again. (Tr. 100, 115). Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), which was conducted on July 28, 2016.
(Tr. 120, 35). After the hearing, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's application in a written decision dated
August 25, 2016. (Tr. 14).
reaching his decision, the ALJ used the five-step sequential
evaluation process for the evaluation of disability claims
under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). (Tr.
18-19); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4) (2017). At the first
step, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the filing of his
application on August 6, 2013. (Tr. 19). At step two, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff had several “severe impairments,
” as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c), including
“mental health impairment diagnosed alternatively as
schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, schizophrenia,
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorder, and
bipolar disorder, mixed.” (Tr. 19); 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(c) (“You must have a severe impairment. If you
do not have any impairment or combination of impairments
which significantly limits your physical or mental ability to
do basic work activities, we will find that you do not have a
severe impairment and are, therefore, not disabled.”).
At step three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled any of the listed impairments (“the
Listings”) found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (Tr. 19-20).
determined Plaintiff could still perform “a full range
of work at all exertional levels” despite his
impairments. (Tr. 21). The ALJ noted in his residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) analysis, however,
that Plaintiff was limited to the following nonexertional
[C]apable of simple, routine and repetitive tasks for two
hour intervals throughout the day at a non-production pace,
no more than occasional public contact, no more than
occasional contact with supervisors, no more than occasional
contact with co-workers and restricted to work in a stable
work environment, that does not have frequent changes.
(Tr. 21). Also at step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff could
not perform any of his past relevant work. (Tr. 29). At step
five, the ALJ determined in light of Plaintiff's RFC,
age, education, work experience, and the Vocational
Expert's (“VE”) testimony, Plaintiff could
perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy, specifically kitchen helper, sweeper/cleaner, and
automobile detailer. (Tr. 29-30). Accordingly, the ALJ
decided Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 30).
receiving the ALJ's decision, Plaintiff subsequently
requested a review of the ALJ's decision, which was
denied by the Appeals Council on July 8, 2017. (Tr. 1).
Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision
of the Commissioner. Plaintiff brought the suit before the
Court to challenge the Commissioner's decision, and this
case is now ripe for judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §
Standard of Review
405(g) of Title 42 of the United States Code provides
judicial review of the Social Security Commissioner's
denial of social security benefits. When examining a
disability determination, a reviewing court is required to
uphold the determination when an ALJ has applied correct
legal standards and the ALJ's factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Westmoreland Coal Co., Inc. v. Cochran, 718 F.3d
319, 322 (4th Cir. 2013); Bird v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 699 F.3d 337, 340 (4th Cir. 2012). A reviewing
court may not re-weigh conflicting evidence or make
credibility determinations because “it is not within
the province of a reviewing court to determine the weight of
the evidence, nor is it the court's function to
substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary if his
decision is supported by substantial evidence.”
Hays v. Sullivan, 907 F.2d 1453, 1456 (4th Cir.
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Johnson v. Barnhart, 434 F.3d 650, 653 (4th Cir.
2005) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted).
“It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence
but may be less than a preponderance.” Pearson v.
Colvin, 810 F.3d 204, 207 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Courts do not reweigh evidence or
make credibility determinations in evaluating whether a
decision is supported by substantial evidence; “[w]here
conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ,
” courts defer to the ALJ's decision.
Johnson, 434 F.3d at 653.
order to establish entitlement to benefits, a claimant must
provide evidence of a medically determinable impairment that
precludes returning to past relevant work and adjustment to
other work.” Flesher v. Berryhill, 697
Fed.Appx. 212 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1508, 404.1520(g)). In evaluating a disability claim, the
Commissioner uses a five-step process. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. Pursuant to this five-step process, the
Commissioner asks, in sequence, whether the claimant: (1)
worked during the alleged period of disability; (2) had a
severe impairment; (3) had an impairment that met or equaled
the severity of a listed impairment; (4) could return to his
past relevant work; and (5) if not, could perform any other
work in the national economy. Id.; see also
Lewis v. Berryhill, 858 F.3d 858, 861 (4th Cir. 2017)
(citing Mascio v. Colvin, 780 F.3d 632, 634 (4th
Cir. 2015)); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4),
416.920(a)(4)). The claimant bears the burden of proof at
steps one through four, but the burden shifts to the
Commissioner at step five. See Lewis, 858 F.3d at
861; Monroe v. Colvin, 826 F.3d 176, 179-80 (4th
Fourth Circuit has held:
If the claimant fails to demonstrate she has a disability
that meets or medically equals a listed impairment at step
three, the ALJ must assess the claimant's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) before proceeding to
step four, which is “the most [the claimant] can still
do despite [her physical and mental] limitations [that affect
h[er] ability to work].”
Lewis, 858 F.3d at 861-62 (quoting 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1)) (alterations in
original). In Lewis, the Fourth Circuit explained
the considerations ...